Companies that use Indonesian palm oil in processed food say they buy from plantations that treat employees well. So why do female workers keep falling ill?
From STAT News:
While men are often assigned the heavy jobs of harvesting the spiky bunches of oil palm fruits, women typically take charge of spraying young trees with a potent cocktail of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides.
In the tropical heat, they trudge through the rows of palms carrying plastic tanks loaded with chemicals, including paraquat, an herbicide banned in much of Europe. Hour after hour, they spray the tree trunks, often with no protection beyond a piece of cloth tied over their nose and mouth. They're typically expected to work through a quota of chemical tanks in order to earn their daily wage.
Veteran plantation workers — and the human rights organizations fighting on their behalf — say the women are exposed to severe health hazards from handling the chemicals. Work accidents can cause infections or blindness or blistering of the skin. Documented health effects of long-term exposure to paraquat also include Parkinson's disease, lung damage, and kidney and heart failure.
“Sometimes if we give the grass pesticide, it goes right back to our face,” said Minah, a 40-year old worker at a palm oil plantation in Riau. She and other workers interviewed asked to be identified by pseudonyms because they fear retaliation.